Reporter Notes Big Change in Catholic Republicans and Democrats in House

Nancy Frazier O'Brien of the Catholic News Service reports that the number of Catholics in Congress will decline from 162 to 150 -- but underneath the numbers is a dramatic party shift among Congressional Catholics:

For the first time in recent memory, the number of Catholic Republicans in the House -- 61 -- nearly equals the number of Catholic Democratic House members, at 65. That marks a dramatic shift since the last Congress convened two years ago with a Catholic House contingent of 98 Democrats and 38 Republicans.

In contrast, the Catholic membership in the Senate has remained relatively stable. Among Republicans, four Catholics left and four new Catholic senators were elected, keeping the total at nine. The number of Catholic Democrats in the Senate went from 17 at the start of the 111th Congress to 15 now, but two of the 17 were now-Vice President Joe Biden, who resigned from the Senate shortly after the session began, and Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, who died in August 2009.

The Congress that convenes in 2011 will be, incidentally, the first in 64 years that does not include a member of the Kennedy family. John F. Kennedy, who was elected the first Catholic president in 1960, first served in the House in 1947; Ted's son, Patrick Kennedy, who represented Rhode Island in the House since 1995, decided not to run for re-election in 2010.

O'Brien here made the typical mistake -- even as she discussed President Kennedy's election as president in 1960 -- of overlooking the fact that John Kennedy's Senate seat was held by a placeholder named Ben Smith from Kennedy's resignation from the Senate in December 1960 until Ted Kennedy turned 30 and was elected in 1962. The Kennedys didn't officially hold the seat, even though they seemed quite in control of it. The story continued:

Compiling numbers on the Catholics in Congress is not always easy, however.

Although several sources -- including his own campaign website -- list Republican Sen.-elect Marco Rubio of Florida as a Catholic, he and his family worship most frequently at Christ Fellowship in Palmetto Bay, Fla., a nondenominational Christian church.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, on the other hand, is a Presbyterian who regularly attends St. Ann Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del. He and his wife, Annie, who is Catholic, are raising their three children in the Catholic faith. (Coons was sworn in Nov. 15 because he was elected to complete Biden's term and took his seat during Congress' lame-duck session.)

For the purposes of this article, Catholic News Service counts Rubio but not Coons as Catholic.

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